The Most Innovative Products of the Millennium

Most would agree that the turn of the millennium is a good place to look forward to the things that the future will bringexciting new technologies, better home video appliances, more power for individuals to distribute their videos, etc. As we stand inside the doorway to the future, however, lets not forget to pay proper respect to the past. Like the Roman god Janus, whose two faces look forward and backward at the same time, we can straddle this moment in time and expand our angle of view to include present, past and future developments in technology.

Ordinarily, Videomakers focus is on present and future developments in video technology. In this article, however, we take a look at the innovations in visual technology that have occurred in the past millenium. We cover all of the major stopping points on the technological road that has led us to this point, and give credit to those who have helped deliver this exciting technology into the hands of the people.

First Videotape Recorder

Ampex VR-1000 2" quad video recording system


It was bigger than a jumbo refrigerator, more expensive than a Mercedes and only recorded black and white video, but Ampexs VR-1000 ushered in the video age as the worlds first commercially produced video tape recorder. Mainly used for time-shifting and archiving television broadcasts, the VR-1000 required the use of a microscope and a razor-sharp blade to splice scenes together.


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First Video Editing Deck

Ampex VR-2000 2" helical video recording system


Coupled with the first time base corrector (1960), this video recording system helped solve some of videos early limitationsmainly, the inability to edit without actually splicing the tape. The use of helical scanningrecording each frame diagonally across the tape instead of a continuous, straight line of signalalso resulted in the ability to record more video on the same amount of tape.

First "portable" video shooting system appears in the U.S.

Sony Videorover CV-2000 series 1/2" videotape recorder


These were actually VTRs for which one could buy an accessory camera. The decks started at $730, camera (CVC-2000) not included. They were "portable" only in the sense that one could lift them (weighing in at 66 pounds; the later CV-2100 weighed a mere 49 pounds). The TVC-2010 was a console model with a built-in monitor. None of these ran on batteries. They were not meant for shooting in the field, but primarily for recording TV programs off the air.

First true portable video shooting system appears in the U.S.

Sony Portapak DVK-2400/VCK-2400


The price for this black-and-white system with single tube camera was $1,250. This was a true battery operated field unit. Nam June Paik videotaped the Popes motorcade through NYC, and played the tape later that day at the Caf Au Go Go, with a Portapak in October, 1966. He may have bought this unit in Japan.

First Betamax VCR



When they released the first home Betamax VCR in 1975, Sony unleashed a storm of controversy thats not unlike the current Napster debate over musical file-swapping on the Internet. Designed to allow consumers to record television programming off the air, the Betamax was an initial success, but was eventually, it was eclipsed by JVCs VHS format.




In the early days of home video, there was a big showdown between two competing formats: Sonys Betamax and JVCs VHS (Video Home System). By the early 1980s, Betamax had all but disappeared and VHS reigned supreme as the home video format of choice. Why? Its difficult to say, but its likely that VHSs lower cost, longer record times and aggressive marketing strategies had something to do with it.

First Removable-Lens Camcorder

Canon L1 Hi8 Camcorder


Many video enthusiasts come from the ranks of photography buffs. It isnt surprising then, that since the early days of video, many home videographers have bemoaned the lack of removable lenses on consumer video gear. Why, they wondered, is it possible to put a removable lens on a $500 35mm still camera but not on a $1,500 video camera?

Canon responded to this complaint with the L1, the first consumer camcorder to incorporate the VL-Mount interchangeable lens system. Utilizing the Hi8 format, the L1 gave videographers an assortment of wide-angle and telephoto lenses to use. With an adapter, the L1 could even use Canons EOS line of still-camera lenses.

First Low Cost Computer Switcher/Special Effects Generator

NewTek Video Toaster System v1.0


In 1992, NewTeks Video Toaster 1.0 retailed for $5,000 and boasted an Amiga 2000 computer with 5MB RAM, a 52MB hard drive and the ability to perform live switching between a maximum of four sources. Although those numbers may seem paltry now, NewTek sparked the computer-video revolution. Now, eight years later, the Video Toaster is still going strong, dropping the Amiga in favor of a PC-based version.

Nowadays, its quite common to find home computers that come ready to edit video right out of the box. In the early 90s, however, such an accomplishment was still just a fantasy for many videographers since it was cost prohibitive and technologically unfeasible.

Innovative High Quality, Low Cost Video Titler

Videonics Titlemaker


Before 1992, home videographers had very few options when it came to creating titles, short of using posterboard and rub-off lettering. The original Titlemaker was a huge success. It delivered titles, backgrounds, outlines and borders and came with four fonts in five different sizes. It also included drop shadows, bold outlines and scrolling. And it featured accented characters in over 16 languages. And the 1992 price? A mere $400! Furthermore, it provided a fledgling company, Videonics, with its first successful product, paving the way for more innovations aimed at the home videographer.

Innovative Editing Product for Beginners

Videonics Thumbs-Up Editor


Chalk up another one for Videonics. The Thumbs-Up Editor gave new meaning to the word simple. Compatible with virtually any VCR or camcorder, it featured just two main editing controls: Press "Thumbs-up" when good video appeared and "Thumbs-down" for the not-so-good video. Credit Videonics with creating an editing device that even children could use to easily create better video.

First Low Cost Prosumer Camcorder

Panasonic AG-455U


Solid, sturdy and professional-looking best described the Panasonic AG-455U S-VHS camcorder. It retailed for $2,300 and at the time was the only consumer camcorder to record vertical interval time code (VITC, pronounced "vitsee"). It also featured high-quality digital effects including still, strobe and tracer. The AG-455 and its later incarnation, the AG-456, would become favorites among wedding and event videographers, as they brought the quality of S-VHS video to the realm of the consumer.

Innovative PC-Based Nonlinear Editor

The Fast Video Machine


It was called "a complete video studio on one card." The Fast Video Machine, from Fast Electronics, was an all-in-one switcher, timeline editor, titler and audio mixer. It boasted high image and sound quality and catered to PC and Mac fans alike. When describing the capabilities of this product, early users of the Video Machine would describe it as a multi-function system, because it incorporated features like deck control, special-effects transitions, time-base correction, titling and even a nonlinear editing option. Credit Fast Electronics with the creation of the first successful non-Amiga, computer video product.

Most Innovative Camcorder Design

Sharp VL-E32U 8mm Camcorder


Sharps ViewCam line changed the way that people looked at camcorders, thanks to a large, built-in LCD display and the independently moving lens and body sections. The compact VL-E32U boasted a 3-inch LCD viewfinder, built-in speaker and 8x power zoom. Now that LCD viewfinders have become commonplace, its perhaps difficult to imagine the tremendous impact this camcorder had on the marketplace when it first came out. Nonetheless, the influence of its revolutionary design and features can still be seen in todays camcorder market.

Innovative Prosumer Video Switcher

Videonics MX-1 Video Mixer


The MX-1 represented a revolution in consumer-level, special-effects generators. It sported two internal time-base correctors and a host of dedicated video processors, allowing it to create over 200 transitions and effects. Useful in either the editing suite or as a switcher for live camera work, the MX-1 (along with its successor, the MX-Pro) is still a workhorse in the event videography world.

First DV Camcorder

Sony DCR-VX1000 Camcorder


With the introduction of the DCR-VX1000, videographers gained access to a 500-line resolution camcorder that fit in one hand and cost less than $5,000. Many home videographers dropped their Hi8 or S-VHS camcorders when they saw the rich colors and razor-sharp resolution that the VX1000 offered. Still used in a wide variety of advanced and professional applications, the DCR-VX1000 set a new standard for DV quality.

First High Quality, Low Cost Video Capture Card

Truevision Targa 1000


The Targa 1000 video/audio capture card inherited the same high quality and reliability of its predecessor, the Targa 2000. It brought 60-field-per-second video capture, Motion-JPEG compression and fully synchronized, 16-bit CD-quality stereo audio capture down to a price that advanced video editors could afford. When compared with other video capture cards in the same price category, the Targa 1000 offered much more bang for the buck and was even available in a Pro version that included component inputs and outputs for use with Betacam VCRs.

Innovative Editing Software

Adobe Premiere 4.2


This version of Adobes popular editing software showed a significant increase in power and flexibility over previous versions. This was mainly due to the fact that it was written in 32-bit code to run on PCs equipped with the quasi-32-bit Windows 95 and the full-32-bit Windows NT operating systems. Version 4.2 of Adobe Premiere set the standard for video editing software, and to this day a number of popular nonlinear editing interfaces have that familiar 4.2 look and feel.

First Video Editing Appliance

Draco Casablanca


Draco Systems came up with the idea of making a stand-alone nonlinear editor that didnt require a standard computer. With the Casablanca, you just connect it to a monitor and VCR, plug it in, capture video on the units built-in hard drive and youre ready to edit. A simple, storyboard interface, a trackball and a sleek, VCR-style design facilitated video editing in a living-room setting. The Casablanca was an innovation in simplicity and effectiveness and has spawned a number of similar products that provide simple nonlinear video editing.

First Mini DV Camcorder with Interchangeable Lenses

Canon XL1 Camcorder


With a hip-looking, professional design, plenty of manual controls, interchangeable lenses, a FireWire jack and 3-chip DV quality images, the XL1 makes for an exceptional camcorder. Equally popular among professional videographers and high-end consumers, the XL1 remains one of the finest consumer-grade camcorders ever produced. The earlier Hi8 L1 (see above) paved the way for the XL1. The DV format provided the extra kick in the audio/video quality department, as well as a few digital still-capture features.

Innovative Low-cost DV Capture Card

Pinnacle Studio DV


Pinnacles easy-to-use and inexpensive Studio DV includes an IEEE 1394 FireWire adapter, simple editing software and TitleDeko titling software. One of its many features is its ability to capture a low-resolution version of an entire one-hour DV tape in only 150MB of hard drive space. The Pinnacle Studio DV brings powerful choices to the consumer, and makes them relatively easy to execute, at an affordable price.

First Low-cost Turnkey DV Editing Computer

Sony VAIO Digital Studio


The Sony VAIO Digital Studios combination of horsepower and the latest video and audio editing technology in an affordable turnkey package makes it comparable to Apples iMac DV in terms of simplicity, affordability and ease of setup. The VAIO Digital Studio is available in a wide range of configurations, all of which come with FireWire (i.LINK) connections and at least the light version of Adobe Premiere 5.1 editing software. The computer also comes equipped with an easy-to-use MPEG-creation software package for Web videographers.

Editing Popularizer

Apple DV iMac with iMovie


When Apple Computer released the DV iMac late 1999 with a price tag of about $1,400, Steve Jobs proclaimed that the era of simple, affordable video editing had arrived. It features an easy editing interface and DV quality throughout, the DV iMac comes very close to making that dream a reality. In short, theres never been an easier way for consumers to edit a high-quality version of their home videos as quickly and efficiently. iMovie, Apples easy-as-pie video editing software, reduced video editing to a few point-and-clicks from a pre-designed template. Add to this its low price and the quality of its digital images and youve got a video editing workstation thats hard to beat. (The computer that comes with it isnt so bad, either.)

Innovative Compositing Software

Adobe After Effects 4.0


Not content to rest on its laurels after almost single-handedly giving birth to the consumer computer-video revolution, Adobe continues to make significant strides in the computer-based special-effects category with its popular After Effects software. Designed mainly as a compositor and animator, After Effects offers some very powerful features that have allowed professionals at the highest rungs (including special-effects artists from Lucasfilms, Inc.) to control motion and layering of effects precisely. Version 4.0 of After Effects brought professional flowchart-style production tools into the mixfeatures that are not commonly found on solutions costing less than five figures.

First Disc-based Camcorder

Sony DCM-M1 MiniDisc Camcorder


Sonys disc-based DCM-M1 is a look at the future. No doubt, someday, video recorded to disc will be the norm. Meanwhile, Sony put a lot of thought into its first model and included in-camera nonlinear editing functionality with touch screen control. Some of the advantages of the disc are random access to footage and no dropout. It can store up to 20 minutes of footage in long play mode. At $2,300, the price makes it an accessible option for hobbyists.

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